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Crime, Law and Justice

Judge Rules Richland Florist Who Refused Gay Wedding Broke Law

A judge in Benton County, Washington, has ruled that a flower shop in the Tri-Cities broke the law when it refused to serve a gay couple planning a wedding two years ago.

The judge said Barronelle Stutzman broke state anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. In 2013, she told Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed she couldn't do the flower arrangements for their wedding because of her religious convictions against same-sex marriage.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined the couple in suing the florist for violating state anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. He said the florist's religious beliefs cannot be used to justify treating certain customers differently.

"The bottom line is a business can say, 'No shoes, no shirt, no service.' You're treating everybody the same,” Ferguson said. “But if you provide a certain service -- in this case, wedding flowers -- you have to treat gay couples the same as heterosexual couples.”

The case has garnered international attention and groups interested in religious freedom rallied to the defense of Arlene's Flowers and its owner.

Freed said they're pleased by the decision and they hope other businesses will take notice of their case.

"We felt what we went through was something we wouldn't wish upon others in our community,” he said. “And that's largely why we took the action that we did.”

The judge still has to assess the penalty for the florist. She could face up to a $2,000 fine.

However, lawyers for Stutzman said they will appeal. In a written statement, the defense said it is wrong that the florist could lose her shop and her savings because she operates her business according to her Christian beliefs.

“The government is coming after me and everything I have just because I won’t live my life the way the state says I should,” Stutzman said in the statement. “I just want the freedom to live and work faithfully and according to what God says about marriage without fear of punishment."